Rockets 128, Magic 104 - Fresh Legs Push Rockets Past Orlando

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Following a brutal stretch of the schedule that saw the Rockets play 14 games in just 23 days, including a 5-game road trip to close out January, the Rockets were very welcoming to an extended rest and a home game against a poor team in the Orlando Magic. The Rockets lost eight of those 14 games, but have won back-to-back games since, handily beating Orlando on Tuesday.

Despite the three-days rest, the Rockets looked a little rusty to start this game - only making three of their first ten attempts from the field and allowing Orlando to jump on a 18-9 lead. Houston took the lead shortly thereafter thanks to a scoring flurry that included back-to-back threes from Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon, as well as a steal and transition lay-up from Ariza. The Rockets, led by Ariza’s 14 points, went on a 24-8 run to close out the opening period – cemented by an ever-so-spry play from backup center Nene.

Nene kept the party going early in the second quarter, scoring nine points (he finished the game with 13) and helping the Rockets build a huge 23-point lead. James Harden was quietly having a great game, scoring 16 points and dishing out eight assists with only two turnovers in the first half. The most fun Harden pass was easily a dish off to Clint Capela in the post for a traditional big-man jam… oh wait, that’s PATRICK BEVERLEY.

The Rockets went into halftime with a 70-54 lead thanks to efficient play that included 54.2% shooting from the field (44.4% from three). However, the third quarter was much, much less efficient as Houston only converted on three of eleven attempts from beyond the arc (27.3%), and 30% shooting from the field overall. This allowed Orlando to outscore the Rockets 30-24 in the period, cutting the Rockets lead down to just ten (94-84).

Orlando further cut the lead down to eight points in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, but the Rockets were not going to allow the Magic back into this game – not on the night Houston honored Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon.

James Harden grew frustrated in the final period, even getting into a brief scuffle with Bismack Biyombo. The frustration stemmed from Harden not getting a few foul calls (in which he obviously got fouled) and going scoreless in the period. Nonetheless, he dished out four assists and the Rockets never looked back. Beverley added nine points to his 14-point total, and both Eric Gordon and Sam Dekker each added a couple of threes.

Impressively, seven Rockets scored in double figure and the team managed to commit nine steals while only committing ten turnovers (the team averages 15.4 per game). Houston also shot 42.1% (16/38) from behind the three-point line. All of these stats, plus the efficient play from the likes of Harden, Beverley, Ariza, Capela, Gordon, and Nene, all signify just how important this bit of rest was for the Rockets.

An interesting wrinkle in Tuesday’s game is that, even in garbage time, Montrezl Harrell didn’t see any playing time. Meanwhile, Clint Capela and Nene played 28 and 18 minutes, respectively. There may just not have been enough time for Harrell, but this move is very interesting given that the NBA Trade Deadline is a mere two weeks away (rumors will be uncontrollable until then).

Houston will look to keep up their winning ways on Thursday in Charlotte when the Rockets take on the struggling Hornets, who just snapped a seven-game losing streak on Tuesday.

Game Ball

 This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Tuesday’s game ball goes to Trevor Ariza.

This game was basically efficient all across the board for the Rockets. Harden put up a routine 25 points/13 assists, Beverley contributed 14 points/6 rebounds/7 assists, and, in general, the team shot very well from the field. Trevor Ariza is undoubtedly the player that needed this kind of game the most, however, as he really struggled in those January games. Most of his 20 points came in the first quarter (he also added seven rebounds and four assists in the game), but his efficiency is something that has really been lacking as of late. He shot 47% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc, and added two more steals (he’s third in the league in steals per game and has 105 on the season).

It’s good to get Ariza going because the Rockets are 16-3 when he scores at least 15 points.

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